During Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, April 23-29, the American Red Cross is celebrating the medical laboratory and manufacturing professionals who work to ensure blood products requested by hospitals throughout the country are available to patients whenever and wherever needed.
Sarah Malenfant works in the immunohematology-reference lab (IRL) as an IRL technologist and lab technical trainer for the Red Cross Mid-Atlantic Region in Richmond, VA. She tests donated blood and works with hospitals to find the most compatible blood units for patients with rare blood types who are in need of a blood transfusion.
“We have patients that when I see their names coming through, I feel like I know them even though I’ve never met them,” said Malenfant. “When I see their names, I know the exact blood matches they need.”
Many of Malenfant’s cases are patients with sickle cell in need of a blood transfusion. Individuals with sickle cell disease can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of the disease. Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient.
“Some donors may not understand what makes their blood so special,” she said. “With your blood type, there could be 600 antigens on your red blood cells that make you unique. The same way that we test to find out your blood group [A, B, O, AB], we can test to find out what other markers [antigens] that are on your red cells.”.
Certain blood types are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups. Many individuals who are Black have unique structures on their red blood cells that make their donations the most compatible blood to help patients with sickle cell disease.
In 2021, the Red Cross launched the Sickle Cell Initiative to help ensure patients have the blood products they need. Through its initiative, the Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help provide closely matched blood donations for patients with sickle cell disease. In the initiative’s first year, the number of first-time blood donors who are Black increased by 60%. Malenfant has noticed the increase in her day-to-day work as well.
“The Sickle Cell Initiative has made it a lot easier for us to fill [hospital] orders [for patients with rare blood types],” she said. “There’s a lot of sickle cell patients out there needing blood, and this initiative has helped to provide the best match for these patients.”
In Malenfant’s everyday conversations with family, friends, and even strangers she encourages the selfless act of donating blood for patients in need. There is a constant need for all blood types, and a person with sickle cell disease may need a closely matched blood donation from a donor.
Individuals of all blood types are urged to make an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Those who come to give blood, platelets or AB Elite plasma April 24-30, 2023, will have a chance to win a VIP trip for 2 to Sonoma County, CA with flights, hotel, $1K gift card for expenses & a behind-the-scenes tour of the Charles M. Schulz Museum & Snoopy’s Home Ice, thanks to Peanuts Worldwide!